Tag Archives: Tiger spotting in India

Camping in the Indian forests of the African tribes- Dandeli Jungle Camp

Being abundantly blessed with natural beauty, Anshi National park and Dandeli Tiger reserve is one of the first hotspots of the elusive black panthers in India. Apart from its paper mills, Dandeli is also known as the ‘Rishikesh of the South’ for its river rafting in the waters of River Kali. As if these weren’t reasons enough for me to backpack, I got invited to stay at the ‘Dandeli Jungle Camp’. What better way to reconnect the lost bond with nature than camping in the woods? I jumped to grab-in when opportunity struck! This was a Solo-trip that was long due and I had alighted for sunrise at the Dandeli bus stand on a Saturday morning.

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After a 30mins drive through the forests to Pradhani, a further off-roading of 2kms from the main road lead me to this simple homestay and camp run in the lap of nature amid the woods. The eerie silence of the elusive woods and the stridulations of the crickets instantly calmed my soul by responding to the deep calls of nature. A basic cottage with all the essential and neat amenities was awaiting me in the midst of the jungle overlooking a farm of areca and mangoes. I couldn’t ask for a better place to be, to feed the wanderlust and nomad in me for the weekend. I was excited to be greeted by Malabar giant squirrels and sambar deer at my doorstep to say the least. One can also avail their tenting facilities with bon-fire if it’s a bunch of friends traveling together. Mr.Dharmesh, the ever smiling owner of the property says that the camp was started by a French lady 3 decades ago from whom he has taken over so that he could settle down in the woods after he quit his well paying job at one of the top-star hotels in Bangalore. He had planned a detailed itinerary for me and I can’t thank him enough for his warm hospitality. After dumping my luggage and a nice lunch, I set out for some exploration.

View from the Supa dam backwaters
View from the Supa dam backwaters

A stroll along the dwindling lonely road on the backwaters of Supa dam offered a panoramic view of the distant hills, only if there was good rainfall- it would have been a gorgeous sight. After a quick stop-over at the tribal shop to relish a glass of kokum juice and buy some jackfruit chips and papads to take back home, I was taken to Syntheri rocks. This is a very beautiful little place located deep in the woods and formed by rich mineral ores that have formed beautiful rock patterns by standing the test of time. A drive to the Kavla caves, A coracle ride in the ferocious rapids of the Kali river, a dip in the natural Jacuzzi, crocodile walk are some of the other activities included in the package that kept me busy through the day. An evening walk in the woods around the property with a personal guide was a memorable time spent identifying the calls of various birds and inhabitants of the forest. The large number of hornbills that fly into their nests in this forest at sunset or catching the sunrise from my window are only some of the fancy things that my stay offered to me.

Syntheri rocks
Syntheri rocks, Photo by: Gowtham Shastry

The next day, Mr.Dharmesh personally dropped me off for the early morning bird watching walk that was arranged at the Dandeli timber depot. This first time experience of birding is something that I will cherish for a long time and is written about as a separate post. A bird watching tour around the depot where over 150 bird species could be spotted on any given day- was the highlight of my trip to Dandeli!

So, the next big agenda was meeting the Siddhis- The tribal community endemic to the Kali reserve region who are believed to be of the African origin. Be it chilling with them over some rustic music or trying their favourite delicacy- the red ant/ termite chutney, the experience is sure to leave one amused and feel time travelled.

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A coracle ride in the Kali River, Photo by: Gowtham Shastry

With so many activities included in the package that kept me on toes through the 2 days I stayed at this property, it is a high recommendation from me. If you wish to extend your stay by another day, you have no dearth of things to do- from river rafting, to a canopy walk and visit to Dudhsagar falls, all can be arranged by the camp guys themselves. After freshening up at the camp, I started my journey back to Bangalore. I took a KSRTC bus from Dandeli to Hubli from where I had booked my train. Whoa! Such a wonderful trip!

Dandeli Jungle Camp’ is an offbeat stay which does not have its own webpage or have direction boards to keep commercialization at check. From the time I alighted at the bus stand till the time I boarded for return, my entire trip was managed by www.dandeli.com through whom my package was booked. The connectivity of public transport within the reserve area is scarce and being a solo traveler, all my travel hassles were taken care by these wonderful organizers.

Luxury in Wilderness of Dandeli- Old magazine house

With an invitation from a friend to explore Dandeli, I packed my bag and hit the road in an overnight bus to reach Dandeli. I was excited with the much anticipated trip that materialized after really long. I was received at the Dandeli bus stand the next morning and transferred to the resort located 20kms away at Ganeshgudi where I had the booking. The name of the property where I was supposed to stay at was equally enticing as the woods itself. The first thought that struck me when I heard ‘The Old Magazine house’ was an old rugged cottage painted on canvas straight out of a magazine cover. But, that’s not what the fancy name beholds. Originally built by the British, it once served as a warehouse of gelatin and gunpowder (hence the name) during the construction of the Supa dam built across River Kali, the lifeline of the National Park. I was hosted at this renovated property, now run as a resort by the Karnataka Forest Department.

The road leading to the Old magazine house
The road leading to the Old magazine house

Their 3 categories of accommodation to suit all budget includes- the individual luxurious wooden cottages, the standard large rooms housed in the actual magazine house and the dormitories for large groups who want to stay together. I chose the second one and had a very comfortable stay. The Old magazine house is a simple place nestled in the midst of high rise thick canopy of trees with abundance of peace and calm in nature’s lap. Water bowls have been placed with entwined twigs collected from the forest where the winged beauties come down to beat the heat. The set-up offers abundant opportunities to click the perfect postcard/wallpaper shots of these winged beauties. While most of the resort operators in the region keep food to attract more birds, “that makes the birds lazy and inactivity makes them vulnerable to prey. Hence, we only keep water bowls to help them quench their thirst and provide a more natural habitat for the birds” says one of the staff. Given their dedication to avian conservation and hospitability, no doubt the place is quite a hit among the bird photographers’ fraternity. I was surprised to meet so many enthusiasts who had made this place their home for over a week straight. All they did was eat the meals served at their place and wait patiently to get their perfect shot or spot that one bird they had come down for, all the way!

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Some of the visitors at the property from over 50 species, photos by: Gowtham Shastry

The early morning nature walk too offered some good birding opportunities with their very knowledgeable in-house naturalist. No doubt, the resort is a birder’s haven, but the place has lot more to offer like the flying lizards, the great Indian hornbill, sloth bears, the giant Malabar squirrel etc. which are easily spotted here than any other resort in Dandeli. Don’t be surprised if you drive past a leopard or a black panther post sunset, hence venturing out of the property after 6.00.p.m. is not advised and the guests are required to stay indoors post dinner at 10.00.p.m.

The Dining area at breakfast and Supper
The Dining area at breakfast and Supper

If you are more of an outdoor person always in action, their package does not disappoint you either- It includes a hike to the sunset point, coracle ride and bon-fire if the weather is friendly. While you are in a place known for its white water rafting, you can indulge in the water sports offered by the resort run Kali adventure camp. With a river seeming deadly with uncountable whirlpools, the coracle ride was sure an experience in itself. With the Kali river flowing as ferocious as her name sounds, I chose them over any other private property because all the permits for treks and adventure activities are legally obtained and conducted under the supervision of authorized and trained personnel from the forest department and hence, a safe bet. The neat spread of dishes for all 3 meals completed my stay into one memorable trip!

The Ganeshgudi bridge as seen from the coracle in the Kali River
The Ganeshgudi bridge as seen from the coracle in the Kali River

Summary:

Must dos:

Watch the hornbills mud-bathing on the river bank near Ganeshgudi bridge

• Spot flying lizards that can be seen in abundance just outside your room window.

• Get lucky to come face-off with the black panthers.

Since the resort is secluded inside the Dandeli wildlife reserve, the accessibility to places is difficult through public transport. My entire trip was very well taken care by www.dandeli.com. From my bus-stand/railway station transfers, accommodation to local sightseeing, everything was perfectly handled with their efficient personnel Mr.Sanjay, Mr.Ramnath and Mr.Rajesh. Even if you are a solo-traveler or a bunch of friends or family, I would definitely recommend their services not just in Dandeli but other places as well.

Tracking the Endangered – Tiger Census 2013

Tiger Census is a week long quadrennial event conducted all over India at the same time. A total of 5,00,000 sq.kms area – 17 states- 40,000 forest beats to be covered with 2000 personnel pulled in to count an estimated 1700 tigers nationwide. The event was scheduled from 16-Dec-13 to 23-Dec-13. With 2 days of training, the census will be done in 2 parts. The 1st 3days will mainly concentrate on tracking the carnivore population(including tigers, leopards etc) through critical carnivore trails and the next 3 days will be through specified transact lines identified to count the herbivores and evaluate the healthiness of the carnivore habitat.

Participation is voluntary wherein, 1 volunteer will be accompanied by 2 forest guards and allocated a specific beat inorder to spot the mighty one with the stripes..!! The forest department would provide bare minimum logistics (read it food), however, beddings need to be carried by the volunteer themselves 🙂 So all said and done, I was shortlisted as a volunteer for Kallahalla Wildlife Range in the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. Last minute preparations, arguments with folks for permission, hunt for a notary for getting the indemnity bond attested.. All done..!! And all set for the LONG weekend 🙂

Day 1: After the enrollment formalities were done, there was a small briefing for the volunteers before we were all directed to the camp to grab some rest before the hectic week ahead 🙂 The camp itself was in the middle of the national forest. The shelter we had to look upto during our next few days was an old abandoned 3 BHK house which once served as a forest staff quarters. Now, there laid only the walls and a thatched roof with no doors, no electricity and no phone connectivity. We would have the privilege of being greeted by wild animals at door step every morning and reptiles creeping in to the living room every now and then. We did not have to be surprised even if one fine morning, the tiger himself waved a ‘Hai’ at us while sitting in the porch.. The only things that we had with us to protect ourselves were our sleeping bags, camouflage clothing, trekking shoes, torches and some insect repellents. We opted to sit in the open under the clear starry sky until the biting cold of the night froze us and it was just a day past full moon 🙂

Day 2: We all assembled by 6.00.a.m in front of our camp where I was introduced to Mr.Swamy & Chikkanna who would accompany me through the due days to come. Mr.Swamy saved the camp as the reference in his GPS and we marched towards our beat. We stopped by now and then to make a note of the different animal scats that we found. Also, the forest grass cover, vegetation, commercial trees, medicinal plants, herbs, shrubs every thing was noted with their local and scientific nomenclature. Scat samples collected included those of wild cat, barking deer, rabbits, sambars, spotted deers, bear etc. with that of the tiger as well..Further ahead, few kms into the thicket, we reached a small bit of moist land. We spotted aleast a dozen of jungle fowls around there. We walked around the place and noted fresh pug marks of a mother & a cub who had just dropped by to quench their thirst. We proceeded further and the sight I encountered next needs a special mention. Atleast 50 parakeets emerged out of a small bush when I walked by. Truly Awesome 🙂 I cursed myself several times for not being able to identify the innumerable bird species I came across all the way. We saw a tree-full of langurs, Malabar giant squirrels, sambars. We encountered a pack of wild dogs who surely were upto a well laid strategy. However, the day soon ended without any major direct sighting.

 Day 3: A day filled with anxiety began at 6.00.a.m. We were greeted at the entrance of the transact line by some wild hogs. The 2 km stretch of the transact was covered without any sightings apart from elephant dung all the way. Further downhill, we saw fresh tiger scat and I had already started to crib about having missed a glimpse of the man by a few minutes 😦 Peacocks, barking deers peeked into our way at times. We grabbed some wild berries from one of the trees that was tagged edible by the guard. When we continued our walk further, Chikkanna stopped us suddenly and asked us to stay still for a while. He pointed- “Elephant..!!” He concentrated on the sound and again said- “There are 2..!!” Within moments, we heard the thumping sound of the elephants moving towards us.. 100mts.. 50mts.. 10 mts.. SHIT.. We saw them both right there.. RUN… Chikkanna commanded.!! We just ran… and the mother & calf duo followed us… We ran.. they ran.. We ran further. “TREE..” He pointed. And we three climbed the tree and reached the top within seconds.(It is unbeleivable how you end up doing things that you have never done before when it is for life.. I had never climbed a tree before.. atleast not this high..!!) The duo continued towards us. Swamy grabbed a few crackers from his bag and lit them one by one. After bursting 5-6 crackers, the duo decided to leave our way.. Hmm.. and then our walk continued. We passed by something that looked like a tiger’s den with few bones stranded here and there. We reached Kiggere- the tropical moist deciduous part of the forest. It is a grassland where we saw herds of spotted deers grazing all around. We rested there for a while and feasted on the fruits that we had collected on the way. The second leg of the day continued here on towards Kebbekatte. Climbers, creepers, bushes, thorns- we waded them all.. and suddenly pug marks appeared from nowhere. “The tiger has just walked down to the watering hole-200mts down the line(Kebbekatte), we might be lucky”- Chikku said. “Shh..” followed an alarming sound. “It’s a tusker.!! He is close..” We looked around and couldnt find any trees this time. Swamy immmediately lit a couple crackers this time. And, we were all releived for getting lucky for the 2nd time.. We walked towards Kebbekatte- It was an unfortunate day for us as we had just scared the tiger away which was spotted by the other beat who had arrived there before us.

 Day 4: My heart kept thumping a little harder than usual. I felt a bit nervous while I was heading towards the jungle. My fingers were crossed all the way hoping to have no more adventures. I felt it was okay even if I did not spot a tiger, but wanted to reach back alive and kicking. I kept walking blindly behind Chikkanna who leaded the trio. We had to literally find our way out of the bushes which had overgrown all of us, blinding our way further. We could not even see if a tiger sat by snarling at us. I heaved a sigh of releif when I got the 1st glance of the Kiggere grassland. the 1st part was accomplished peacefully..!! Chikkanna moved into the bushes to answer the nature’s call. And so did- Swamy behind another one. I was trying to pacify my thumping heart standing all alone in the meadow. Tigers are mostly spotted in open grasslands I had read. Then, on hearing the trumpet of an elephant, Chikkanna emerged out of the bush. He signaled for Swamy to join us asap. He explained to us that the tusker was calling for a fight and is moving towards Baalekatte(our route further). We walked ahead slowly along the same route. Suddenly, Swamy pointed out to our right and screamed- “Run Run… its a Herd.. Herd..” It took few seconds for Chikkanna & me to believe our eyes. About 10-12 gigantic creatures where marching towards us… barely 20mts from us… We had forgotten to look out in other directions while we were concentrating on the lone tusker. We three started to run… Chikkanna shouted- “The tusker & the herd, both are heading towards Baalekere, let us run towards Doddkere” we three ran.. Tadan…. Another tusker stood right infront of us…. We three were surrounded by these pachyderms from 3 sides.. They ran.. I followed them.. I was caught in between a thick bunch of creepers. “F**K… This is it..!!” I thought. But, I saw god in disguise running towards me with a dagger in his hand and free me out of the tangle. It was Chikkanna. The monsters were close, we continued to run.. I again tripped over a snake that crossed my leg.. I leaped over and continued to run. Meanwhile, Swamy had lit a few crackers and planted them along the way. Out of 6 odd something crackers, only one bursted. The sound was good enough to shoo the tuskers away.. We continued to run and reached the same confines of a tree trunk on the otherside of Kebbekatte lake. After a short while, we met the other beat guys and headed towards Sulekere. This was the last option we had to catch a glimpse of the striped monster. We waited there for a long while hoping for him to come there to drink some water. We saw bisons and other animals walking in there, but hard luck- we could not spot a TIGER 😦

 And thus ended our tryst with the wild.. The pug marks were all accounted which will be matched with the camera images captured by NCTA and a compiled report will be out in a few months’ time 🙂